+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Matthew 18:15-18
Theme: The Imperative of Forgiveness
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
The church stands or falls on the teaching that sinners are justified by grace, through faith for Christ’s sake. Forgiveness is the evidence that this truth is effective among believers. Today Christ teaches about reconciliation among Christians. Believers are taught to forgive the personal sins committed against one another. When this fails the wider church is brought into the picture. The consequences of unrepentance were serious. The believer’s soul was understood to be in danger. Steadfast refusal to repent resulted in self-exclusion from participating in Christ’s own forgiveness. Therefore the church prevented the unrepentant individual from participating in the shared blessings of the community for his or her own good. There was no other way to keep from condoning immoral behavior. The first thought was for the spiritual well-being of the individual; the second for the integrity of the community.
This raises serious questions for the state of church discipline today. Centuries of decline have dramatically reduced the church’s vigor in addressing immorality and unrepentance within its communities. If the church is unwilling to call sinners to repentance who will? What then happens to the motivation for mission? If there are few, if any sins to be condemned, then what’s the motivation for proclaiming the gospel? If Satan is a paper tiger and hell just a mythical place what need is there for a Saviour? The purpose of the church then gets re-engineered as an agency for social justice. We see the effects of this in the world today. How far from Christ’s institution have we fallen?
The Christian community was instituted as an organized community. Any claim that early believers simply lived and worshipped in informal family groups and had no greater structure is dispelled by Jesus’ own words today. He says to “tell it to the church.”1 The issue was reconciliation between Christians. When a sin is unresolved there is a proper order to be followed. Christians aren’t allowed to take things into their own hands. Reconciliation among members of the body of Christ is too important. Accountability has always been essential for the protection of the community. Unresolved sin eats away at the conscience.
A man went to a doctor complaining of persistent pain but the doctor could find nothing physically wrong. The doctor said, "last week I had a fellow who was complaining of pains similar to yours & I couldn’t find anything wrong with him, either. But after talking a while, he told me that he was worried sick about a $5,000 debt he owed & couldn’t pay. Well, we talked about it & I was able to help him."
The man asked, "How did you help him?" "Oh, I told him that life was too short to worry about a piece of paper that said he owed $5,000. I suggested that he tear up the paper & throw it away, & stop worrying about the debt, & get on with his life. So he did. And now he feels great!" "Yes, I know," said the guy. "I’m the one he owes the $5,000 to." What does Paul say today, “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another.”2
Dear friends, physical pain can be caused by emotional or spiritual stress. This commonly happens during times of grief. It also happens when unforgiven sin festers in our hearts and minds. About this David says in the Psalms, “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away…my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.”3 David knew what he was talking about. He labored over the sins of adultery and murder. But note how he goes on, “Then I acknowledged my sin to You and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord- and You forgave the guilt of my sin.”4
This promise is secure: God forgives the guilt of the repentant sinner. This forgiveness brings a new lease on life. It quiets the conscience and gives peace to the soul. It is a greater treasure than all the riches of the earth. And it doesn’t come to us cheaply. It was secured at the price of divine blood. The angel of death passed over the houses of those Israelites who had their doorframes marked with lamb’s blood. Forgiven sinners too are spared by the blood of the very Lamb of God. Don’t be too quick to take for granted this gift of forgiveness. If this forgiveness is rejected or despised the baptismal promise is also forfeited.
All of our hopes, our dreams, our pursuits; all of our successes and failures are nothing apart from the certainty of God’s acceptance of us through Christ. This is not something faith easily believes. No wonder Jesus commands His followers to pray for the Holy Spirit. No wonder the Bereans searched the Scriptures daily5. It is through those Scriptures that the Holy Spirit works. These are the truths we are charged with passing onto the next generation.
We are mindful today of the fact that the image of God as Father is foundational for the biblical understanding of divine-human relationships. Though secular society mostly denies the unique role of fatherhood the Scripture teaches that it was part of creation. “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them.”6 By design God made non-interchangeable and irreducible distinctions between man and woman, father and mother. Proponents of same-sex marriage crassly deny not only physiological differences, but also the purposeful creation which is the very source. Men and women are not interchangeable not only insofar as biology is concerned. God purposefully created male and female to be complementary and unique.
By virtue of their vocation fathers are charged with the well-being of their children. The most critical part of this responsibility is the moral and spiritual example a father sets for his children. The most critical thing parents can do for their children on a regular basis is practice offering and receiving forgiveness; it’s the same critical dynamic of the Christian congregation. Only in this way can we, as children of God, draw life, hope, and every blessing from Christ who “is the atoning sacrifice for our sins.”7
Dear friends, when the Holy Spirit gathers you at this altar you are offered forgiveness in the form of divine food. His body was broken for you. His blood was shed for you. His atonement was not a dramatic way to garner admiration or respect. It was the only means to redeem life. Sin suffocates but forgiveness breathes fresh life. Death is humanly insurmountable. But Christ was mounted upon the cross and death was defeated. Satan could not vanquish Him. Hell could not withstand Him. And now the legions of darkness must suffer Him. Their defeat is final and eternal. Our life is immortal and incorruptible. Christ lives and He makes us participants of His unending life. Amen.
+ in nomine Jesu +
Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost
4 September, 2011
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 Matthew 18:17
2 Romans 13:8
3 Psalm 32:3-4
4 Psalm 32:5
5 See Acts 17:11
6 Genesis 1:27
7 1 John 2:2